The founder of a Haitian death squad is on trial this week in Brooklyn—not for human rights violations, but for mortgage fraud.
Prosecutors allege that Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was behind a scheme that cheated lenders out of $1.7 million.
If convicted of second-degree larceny, Constant faces five to 15 years in prison.
After Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was exiled in the early 1990s, Constant founded the paramilitary group Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), a group that terrorized Aristide supporters.
In 2006, after two years without a response by Constant, the Federal Court in New York issued a $19 million default judgment to three women, two of whom were gang-raped in front of their families by FRAPH. The case was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Center for Justice and Accountability.
“It’s like Al Capone—it’s not enough that he blows people away, he also commited tax fraud,” said Jennie Green, a senior attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Last week, her group, along with other civil rights groups and local Haitian activists, held a rally across from the Supreme Court of New York in Downtown Brooklyn to publicize the case, expected to stretch 10 days.
“We thought it was important to call attention to who Constant is,” Green said.
“There’s a pattern with this guy. He commits human rights atrocities in Haiti, then he comes to the United States and he victimizes people in another way, in this case, economic crimes.”
According to a report, Constant’s attorney told jurors that Constant was framed by others intent on keeping themselves out of jail.
Initially, Constant agreed to a plea bargain that would have sent him back to Haiti. But last spring, after receiving information from Haitian and U.S. human rights attorneys, the judge presiding over the mortgage scheme case rejected the plea bargain.
Green said the judge was made aware of Constant’s human rights violations, which would be relevant to the sentencing. According to U.S. State Department reports, Green said, Constant, as the leader of FRAPH, was responsible for the murder, rape and torture of thousands of Haitians in the early 1990s.
From 1996 until his arrest for mortgage fraud in 2006, Constant, 51, was living in Queens.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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